Bowling ball launcher

In the midst of preparations for Maker Faire's chain reaction collective build, we've been tinkering with various ways of having a grandiose finale to the whole shebang, one that would pack a lot of impact, while still being faithful to the materials and aesthetic of the rest of the activity (cardboard, paper, home-made contraptions, household items, etc.). After several ideas and prototypes, we settled on an awesome ping-pong ball launcher, powered by a falling bowling ball. This short video documents some of our prototyping process, as well as the fun we have while developing ideas!


Laser Cutting Experiments

Laser cutting

In the last couple of weeks, I have spent many evenings playing around with our new laser cutter in the learning studio. So far I have not started any big projects, but just enjoyed the opportunity to work with such different materials on the same machine. It's astonishing how the cutter can produce acrylic gears, colorful fabric designs, etchings in a mirror surface, fragile paper ornaments, or wood cut-outs (more in this Sample Gallery).

The image to the left shows quick 10 minute clip art designs we used to test materials, below is an example of a bigger project by Kristina Larsen. She just started  to use the laser cutter with Adobe Illustrator for her artwork.

"I've been wanting to do something with this design for a long time. The black felt is made of polyester and the rest is a slightly thinner rayon/wool blend. The non-synthetic felt looks and feels much nicer, so I plan to swap out the black with the good stuff in dark brown. Once it's all together I'll attach it to a backing material, probably fabric.

I find the process of fitting the pieces together immensely satisfying, like working on a squishy jigsaw puzzle. I'm also happy with the combination of precision cuts and organic lines, and that I've managed to use computer and laser cutter to make something warm and handmade feeling."

Felt mosaic


Shih Chieh Huang's "Organic concept" installation

Visiting artist Shih Chieh Haung ("CJ") spent last week here at the Exploratorium, researching possible collaborations, sharing his wonderful work with the staff, and generally having a good time. On his last day, we convinced him to make one of his "organic concept" installations on the museum floor. These are incredibly evocative and fun, but the execution is surprisingly simple!

All we needed to make it happen were a box fan, some painter's tarp (which is a really thin, long sheet of plastic), and a couple of bungee cords. One end of the tarp roll gets secured over the box fan, then the fan is turned on, and the ends of the tarp are knotted together at regular intervals. The organic shape that results was an amazing draw, and it came together in less than 20 minutes! Of course visitors (especially children) attacked it immediately, but it was also really nice to see the Exploratorium staff come out of their hiding holes and start playing with it as well.

Another great advantage of this construction is the the inevitable holes and ruptures that happen can be immediately repaired by simply tying another knot! So, what we thought would last only a few minutes, ended up providing a couple of hours of solid enjoyment and wonder to many people.


Chain reaction videos: explainer style!

As promised, here are two videos showing the contraptions built by the explainers during their training with us. Cool stuff!


Chain Reaction training

In preparation for the upcoming Maker Faire booth, in which we will be hosting a community-built chain reaction event, we had the pleasure of trying out the activity with the Exploratorium explainers. Due to their busy schedule and the need to have the museum floor staffed, we had to split the workshop in two days, with half the explainers doing the activity on one day, and the other half on the next.

In this activity, we will ask participants to build a section of a collective chain reaction; each section will then join with and trigger the next one, so that at the end of a building session, we will be able to set the contraption off at one end, and it will work its way (flawlessly, I'm sure!) to the end.

As always, the depth of thought and care that this group of educators brings to any activity they participate in shined through, both in the actual construction of the chain reaction elements, and in the discussion we had afterwards.

Now we are definitely looking forward to Maker Faire in a month!

Here are some photographs from both days:

Chain reaction day 1

Click image for Day 1 gallery!

Chain reaction day 1

Click image for Day 2 gallery!